Jan 20: Best from the blogosphere

“Collision between retirement hopes and financial reality” may be newsmaker of the ‘20s

Writing in the Globe and Mail, columnist Ian McGugan predicts that the “gradual unravelling of the world’s retirement dream” may be the biggest crisis we face in the ‘20s.

While we aren’t seeing violent protests in the streets over pensions, as in Chile and to a lesser degree, France, McGugan suggests that while Canada’s retirement system is not yet broken, there are signs of problems.

The Canadian retirement system, he writes “is now only slightly better than Chile’s in terms of overall design, according to an annual survey of retirement systems in 37 countries, conducted by human-resource consultants Mercer and academics at Monash University in Melbourne.”

The survey, called the 2019 Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index, says there is currently a $2.5 trillion gap between “existing retirement savings and future retirement needs in Canada.”

The causes of the gap, writes McGugan, include “shrinking access to  corporate pension plans” and “rock-bottom interest rates,” which mean savers must take on riskier investments to grow their retirement pots.

Other factors, he notes, include the growing number of retirees and the fact we’re all living longer. “Many people now live into their nineties, but most still want to retire in their early sixties or even earlier. This means their savings and pensions have to support them for more years, but without any increase in contributions,” he writes.

Let’s unpack these four important points. Workplace pension plans are not as common as they used to be – so many of us must fund our own retirements. Low interest rates make it hard to grow your savings. The number of retirees is growing, which is a strain on government benefits, and we’re generally all expecting to see our 90th birthday or beyond.

McGugan says there is no magic solution for these problems.

He notes that the fixes out there include “raising official retirement ages by four to six years” so that people work longer, promoting great retirement savings rates, and “accepting that retirement incomes may have to be substantially lower than they are now.”

For instance, people may have to accept that they’ll be living on 60 per cent of what they earned while working, rather than the conventional target of 75 per cent. Making changes to government retirement programs so that they pay less and are thus (in theory) more sustainable will be “political dynamite,” he writes.

McGugan’s analysis seems very accurate. Let’s recall the reaction to two federal government proposals. Years ago, the federal Tories proposed delaying payment of OAS, moving the starting point from 65 to 67. There was a lot of protest over this decision, which ultimately was reversed by a subsequent government. And when that subsequent government moved to increase – gradually, and over decades – the cost of, and payout from, the Canada Pension Plan, many organizations called that an unfair tax hike. So you can lose politically by cutting or by improving benefits.

The bottom line is that even if you do have a workplace pension plan, you need to be thinking about saving for retirement in order to augment your future income. If you don’t have a plan at work then you need to come up with your own. Don’t be overwhelmed – you can start by making little, automatic contributions to your savings, and dial up how much you chip in going forward. But you’ve got to put up that first dollar.

A great retirement savings plan, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan  allows you to put away up to $6,300 each year, within your available RRSP room, in a defined contribution plan.  Your savings will be grown by professional, low-cost investing until the day comes when you need to draw on that money as retirement income. And then, the SPP offers an array of options, including providing you with a lifetime pension. Be sure to check them out.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing, classic rock, and darts. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

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